Richard White

explorations in place and time


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Travelling backwards to the Underground Railroad

reflections on a week in Ontario, Canada

After a days walking in the city, leaving facing backwards watching skyscrapers shrink to distant stubs, it struck me that Toronto Ontario sounds like some kind of palindrome. Not quite reading forwards and backwards just strangely changed with the same sounds if not the same letters. Clickety-clack looking back heading from Toronto to London Ontario with more ons than offs and certainly I already needed more than the mere horizontal control so kindly provided by the pavements of the Indian Road.

I was in Canada with a group of colleagues following the increasingly strange trail of the Underground Railroad as part of a project called Phantoms of the Past. Some of the Phantoms proving to be barely remembered ghosts other white settler zombies, obscured and reluctant spectres of colonisation retaining something of their evil DNA. Indian Road is a pleasant tree lined suburban street, gentle bends in the way reflecting its past as a trail to the lakeshore far older than the oldest houses. Ghosts of indigenous people trading with settlers passed me as black birds and black squirrels heading down to the great water. The art gallery acknowledge their presence and invisibly a First Nations locative app geo-tagged the line on the map bring me to this disturbance in the geometric certainty of city street grid.

Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto

Riding backwards on a train stopping twice at each station as it was too long to stop just the once, arriving backwards in the dark to London Ontario. Jet lag compounded with colony lag, settler lag, time lag, map lag, lag lag. The names on the map and in the white people’s talk are as if from the time travel story where the consequences of stepping off the Jurassic path, mutated over the traversed millenia, is manifested in spelling and unease. London Ontario has the River Thames running through it, Essex and Chatham-Kent just down the road but both to the west; it has a Cheapside, an Oxford Street and a St Paul’s Cathedral where once on the eve of the American Civil War a preacher gave a fiery sermon in favour of abolition to a crowd roaring him on. I am disoriented. Emancipation day now barely resonates as a whisper on Civic Holiday.

The names are disorienting in the way they carry settler memories, perhaps once inscribing the land with familiar names as security. Maybe the English were first to settle there, but for sure I know where the River Thames is and it’s not in Canada, that river had a name people used before the settlers arrived. They lost it, couldn’t be bothered to learn it, were afraid of it, thought their names were better. Imposing white familiarity and security, names and languages are suppressed but in the coyote, the sound of woodpeckers and in graffiti and in sound of water in the river, there is phantom memory.

And those Canadian red breasted birds may carry the name settlers gave them but for sure, they are not Robins. I know, however, that the starlings are indeed starlings thanks to a white Shakespeare enthusiast who released a flock in New York for the sound of their calls and perhaps the shapes of their pestilential murmurations. Dissonant sounds, dissonant names, the calls of wild green parakeets in London are not the same. This is white colonial stuff, the erasure and rendering invisible of indigenous culture. Powerful and moving presentation by Jenna Rose Sands showing zines documenting Atrocities Against Indigenous Canadians.  Learn the history of the land you build your life on.

State sanctioned residential schools tore children from parents in an organised strategy of  indoctrination disconnecting them from their culture. Residential was essential because a Canadian Prime Minister once said, learning at home would simply produce savages who could read and write. The last residential school closed in 1996. A young generation trying to put something back together, the original design broken.

Meanwhile at the terminus of the Undergound Railway all was not what it seemed. An intensive immersion begins at Dawn, at Chatham Kent, continues via Dresden and burst in my head at a village no longer called Wilberforce but Lucan…imagine your favourite dodgy aristocrat. Where a museum dedicated to the memory of an Irish family feud and massacre can’t seem to find an authentic relic, confines the history of a settlement of pioneering Black people from the United State to a few panels in a corner and offers the entire history of all the people who were there before to a small glass topped container the size of a shoe box. The unlit box holds random finds, tiny arrowheads and other carefully shaped stones from indeterminate periods of human wayfaring in this once wooded space. We visit old grey wooden houses moved by flatbed truck from other places to serve the massacre myth. Sensed loving presences in the warm wood of the upstairs room in the house where the last resident was born belie the part the building was shipped in to play in this drama. I closed the front door latch remembering Bachelard, and snapped the lock shut.

Up the road in the graveyard, broken memorial stones beside a shed, almost cared for, a cluster of graves from a Black settlement that uprooted themselves from Cincinatti’s racist laws to make a farming community in Canada. Perhaps then to find an insidious racism, the slow white supremacist poison the European settlers brought with them. The farms are gone and people dispersed, some graves remain. Almost cared for. We spend a moment with them. Reflecting.

I came to London Ontario backwards on a slow train and we travelled from one displaced place to another in an entangled geography of colony and myth. We were, I was told, to visit Uncle Tom’s Cabin and so on that first day we pile into the american yellow school bus of childhood memory and old hippy delight for a journey that would indeed take me furthur. Although that was not the destination indicated. It was to Chatham and not the one in the Medway ports and Dickens bleak marshes. We were going to Uncle Tom’s Cabin at Dawn. A white man visiting Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a bit tricky from the start as I had in my head the idea of an ‘Uncle Tom’ as an insult directed to a black man overly compliant and grateful for being ‘given’ his freedom by white masters. So our white party arrived, with just one black professor and no black students. I had never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I had a vague idea of some of the names of the leaders of the Underground Railroad…Harriet Tubman er um Josiah Henson…er um. But I knew my Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. This was terrifying on so many accounts was I going to be complicit in sustaining the celebration of the original Uncle Tom?

We took our seats in the auditorium and the curator a descendant from escaped slaves who had made their homes and farmed nearby began. He opened with a tv quiz show adaptation, Black Jeopardy. At once relief that this story appeared to be being owned by black people and not told by whites as I had feared, and the core of my prejudices that had left Uncle Tom’s Cabin unread. At the same time terror that my general knowledge might be racialised as white. The knots liberal whites tie themselves in. In the spirit of the yellow bus I tuned in and was reminded of the terrors and scale of the forced migration that this place represented, in the museum in the memorabilia of that hell, a brass manilla possibly manufactured along the River Avon, Bath, England.

Thus I got to know about the communities of escaped slaves, self emancipated black people and others who bought and leased land in the area. Looking out over glacier scraped undulating land from the door of the Cabin in the community named with such hope as Dawn, we were told that, once, as far as you could see there were black settler farms. I learned about Josiah Henson and his difficult relationship with his novelised life as Uncle Tom and the significance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in focussing the abolition movement. Following the thread, the construction of the still compliant gratefully released slave and the white generated iconography of the Underground Railway I came back to that white supremacy, white settler, legacies of slaveownership, colonisation.

Unravelling these threads of Uncle Tom I learned about a newspaper owned and edited by a black woman, Mary Ann Shadd, the black provincial press, here was once an advanced thriving region of black communities. We learned about resistance, the young escaped slave recaptured and an entire community turning out to stop the train and release him. The independent black business woman who refused to leave a whites only part of a cinema, at least we know about Rosa Parks…but I had not heard of Viola Desmond, now on the Canada 10 dollar bill. Communities that sent soldiers to fight in the US Civil War to free their enslaved brothers and sisters. Connected communities that followed the progress of escapees up the Railroad and prepared a welcome home for them. Ringing the freedom bell and building a house for them. Communities dispersed but still connected, an annual homecoming attracts thousands.

At Buxton there were no healing waters, the coke machine was lined up with museum text and disturbingly normalised images of the brutalisation of enslaved people. Visitors look back at random African cultural artefacts from the timbers of a thoroughly sanitised slave ship experience. I wondered who this was for, to shock white children or for white liberals to look at. Here was the ghost of Uncle Tom in a display about railway porters, leaving the land for servile work, pushed off the land maybe as that poison of white settler supremacy gathered strength. Just a few black farmers left, agribusiness moving in, the alliances of white capital and the absence of social repair was poignant. Here in Buxton there was contact between those who had had their land taken away from them and those who had been taken from their lands. I wanted to know more.

I wanted to know more. I wanted to know more about the white people, how did this happen. In the cluster of moved buildings that remain of Dawn, near Josiah Hensons grave, we sang in the chapel a song from the Underground Railroad ironically better known by the English as their rugby supporters anthem. In the brief silence maybe we reflected on our accountability in this. Seeing the branding irons of the master’s initials and having been beaten severely in his days of enslavement for trying to decipher and learn to read those letters, Henson vowed never to learn to read or write but toured with his story, ghosted and published by someone else. A white man perhaps. Then repurposed by Stowe, a white woman.

We learned of Henson’s intervention at the Crystal Palace 1851 World Fair when the white US shipper would not release the wood shipped from Henson’s land and prepared by him for display, Henson had painted on the wood the information THIS IS THE PRODUCT OF THE INDUSTRY OF A FUGITIVE SLAVE FROM THE UNITED STATES, WHOSE RESIDENCE IS DAWN, CANADA.

So much more now fast receding in memory as I travel again facing backwards leaving London Ontario in the street light glow. The plaques the plaques….Time to look forwards and reflect…walking whilst white.

I visited Uncle Toms Cabin Historic Site Museum

Chatham-Kent Black Historical Site

Lucan Area Heritage and Donnelly Museum


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Confluence

Exhibition and workshops in Stroud

I am showing work here alongside Walking the Land artists and offering a short textual intervention with the Space, Place, Practice research group. We give the idea of enchantment ‘a good frisk’, according to one writer. The exhibition takes place at the Museum in the Park, private view Wednesday 17 April and other workshops running through to Sunday 28 April


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Enchantment and re-enchantment

to start the year lets begin here with a different map

blake pilgrimsprogress1

 asked what does re-enchantment mean to me…and it turns to a rant

I challenge the notion of re-enchantment!

 

To me re-enchantment speaks of an anthropocentric ecology reflecting modern western/enlightenment ideas of landscape, terrain and environment, implying a separation between human and nature, mind and body and cognitive versus embodied knowing.

Re-enchantment implies an action on something that is no longer enchanted and thus some kind of judgment that it needs to be re-enchanted. It resonates for me with a romanticisation of traditional cultures that conceals the impact of colonisation and other inequalities.

It embodies a nostalgia for an ‘enchanted’ past and enchanted registers of knowing. An attempt to reinstate an imagined way of being, a desire to uncritically reconstruct those old ways according to a vision of the past seen from the present.  Extending this notion of re-enchantment has the potential to obscure present day contradictions, injustices and the achievements of past struggles. Re-enchantment is the antithesis of becoming accountable.  Re-enchantment has the same set of problematics as ‘re-wilding’ proposals have in post industrial colonising countries of the Northern Hemisphere. Ecologies evolve, the designation and removal of ‘pests’ and predators and the nurturing of species as servants and as food for humans is part of the impact of our species in these times known as the Anthropocene. We may wish to review some kind of mitigation of our impact but in my opinion re-enchantment and re-wilding are all part of the same phenomenon trying to roll back a clock that can’t be rolled back (like Brexit!) it is a rhetoric that obscures rather than reveals.

and then the wise stops me in my tracks and says maybe The Anthropocene is the ultimate conceit of our species

…but if you want to talk about feral, count me in!

In short, I don’t really like the word ‘enchantment’. I do, however, recognise that an alertness and sensitivity to the spectral, living and non living things to the currently unknown and that which may never be known in the western academic tradition brings a richer experience of life. I join those who argue that in the Slow we find that enchantment has always been present, its just a different way of knowing.

poppyfield

The idea of enchantment embodied in re-enchantment however, implies some kind of magic or illusion, a mystical control in which knowledge is power held by someone or something other. I think of pantomime and fairy tales, as in Babes in the Wood where children are lost and eaten in the enchanted forest, or in the Wizard of Oz  where Lion falls asleep the enchanted poppy fields and almost doesnt discover his courage. There is a macabre element of a spell that needs to be lifted or resisted as in Bunyan’s allegory, Pilgrims Progress, where walking through the Enchanted Lands travellers are seduced to sleep forever never to reach the Celestial City and redemption.

and then the wise stops me again and says:

‘enchantment’ has value at least in countering the rational

We can recover linguistically from enchantment and the equally problematic western romanticisation of indigenous and colonised people’s ontologies by thinking and making work in terms of non modern sensibilities. It this I prefer to do, and believe that, in terms of walking arts, a phenomenological approach may be the way forward, becoming better attuned to our bodies and all our senses, developing intuition and sensibilities towards peripheral intelligence. Deep slow connected understandings. Becoming accountable through the corporeal activity of walking, developing responses to what we sense and learn and thereby becoming response-able as fellow creatures in this life on this planet.

john_bunyan,_the_road_from_the_city_of_destruction_to_the_celestial_city_1821_cornell_cul_pjm_1038_01

What would  disenchanted be like?

I dispute the notion of disenchantment!

It would be interesting to explore the enchantment of the our surroundings and consider what such enchantments obscure or seek to obscure.

A (dis)enchanted space is what becomes if we inhabited it response-ably. Alert to its layers of time and life, responding to it as part of a connected sensing ecology. Aware of the enchantments and illusions whether they are of the Disney English Heritage variety or the romanticisation of old ways. Even field boundaries tell a stories of enclosure and clearance, power and dispossession. Aware of human ownership and contested territory as well as the power of things, the voice of the waters and the surveilled space of the raptor. A space sensing its temporal, spatial and affective intra-connectedness.

I’ll go for a feral space affectively engaged with its past, present and future, relaxed about stuff unknown or perhaps stuff humans have yet to find a way to articulate. Maybe thats our role as artists finding ways of articulating and manifesting that stuff. Becoming accountable. Slower more respectful. Still learning how to be with each other as we evolve. Still discovering and generating new knowledge. Non-modern. Still working on it but better connected. Hanging on for dear life as the planet spins!

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…and maybe its is the ultimate mind trick of the Enlightenment…..it has deprived those who have grow up in its hegemonic thrall of the ability to experience awe.

A thought habit that needs to change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Sweet Waters: Soundings

Sweet Waters: Soundings from the walks

Saturday 21 October from 13.00-16.00

Saltford Brass Mill
The Shallows
Saltford
BS31 3EY

an installation in sound and images

Responses and resonances sense-ing legacies of slave-ownership in Bath and along the River Avon….visit the Mill discover sounds and images gathered from the Sweet Waters walks and related research along side the existing information and orientation

Sweet Waters graphic final

Working with field recordings, background research and other materials this begins a reporting phase from the Sweet Waters project.  The Mill is a relic of an industry producing brass goods that were loaded on ships from Bristol and traded for enslaved people. The water wheel still turns and the installations will respond to the watery sonic environment, repatriating sounds of the manufacture of goods destined for the West Coast of Africa.

Sweet Waters is a wayfaring through interconnected cycles of Water and Trade exploring legacies and revealing resonances:

Water: from rain to river to sea to sky and back, power and transport, plantation irrigation and country park decoration. The river washed away the sweat of the brass workers, returning slave ships were scrubbed down into it, while the tears of those who lost loved ones to the slavers flowed to the sea in the rivers of West Africa. In the water: blood, vomit, excretia, the dissolved and digested flesh of those who resisted, sea-sick, home-sick, tears of grief, tears of despair, blood of punishment and cold sweat of survival. In the vast Atlantic Ocean there are generations of lives thrown overboard as damaged goods, food for fish and cowries. Heritage, memories, stories, languages.

Trade: the Triangular Trade: products made and transported on the River Avon shipped to West Africa and sold for enslaved people, those who survived the crossing were sold again to work in field and factory, the materials they produced and the wealth generated returned up the River Avon. Sugar. Tobacco. Timber. Wealth fuelling industrial development and embodied in country houses and the fine buildings Bristol and Bath.
So when it rains in Bath or Bristol or when the river swells with the tide and as the water turns the Saltford millwheel we remember and sense legacies of slave-ownership. We are mindful of our heritage. We are connected. Sweet Waters.

hurricane-irma-1200x900

 

Legacies I am reflecting on

Global warming begins at the hearth of the slave-owning nations, hurricanes today drawing up the warmed Atlantic waters.

Colonial assertions of white skinned dominance feeds deep and long-lasting racism and the trauma of enslavement continues to fills prisons and mental hospitals.

Weapons from England sold in West Africa escalate violence and dislocation.

Cultures of addiction, sugar, tobacco, tea, coffee chocolate on which slave-owners fortunes are made.

Slave-owner wealth embodied in grand houses, parklands and cityscapes.

Enslaved people who survived carried beliefs, skills, stories and sound memories into the cultures they fashioned.

Echoes of resistance and survival in the popular music of today.

 

Richard White 2017


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Sweet Waters Holburne Museum to Beckfords Tower

A first stab at writing up my notes:

I come back from a walk a different person

Walk 1 From the Holburne Museum to Beckfords Towerbriefing at Holburne
Bath’s Last Legal Slaveowners
2 proper tour guides on this first day walking team and I’m on stage edgey
One from the buses, the other from mad max.

and me.

Gathering in the sun outside the pillared temple of the museum at the top of Pulteney Street. Architectural icons from ancient slave economies fetished to represent learning and authority. The Roman Baths were discovered under the offices of Bath’s Poor Law Guardians. (archaeologicial irony)

Slaves ancient and modern, just like the poor of the City have no voice here.

Don’t mention the sugar.

Sugar that sweetened the tea and transformed chocolate to sweet treat.

Sweet ease of polite society hiding in glass cabineted silver bowls and tongs

No tongues for the sugar nips

Don’t mention the sugar, the Holburne doesnt

 

First thing in the high ceilinged morning cool gallery we talk in hushed tones. We drift toward Gainsborough’s portrait of slaveowners. One of the largest canvases he painted, it says. These were the people who came to the enchanted city to take the waters, to recover from the heat and disease, to network, to speculate, to gamble. The Byams, a family with its feet deep in the blood and flesh of the slave worked plantation economy. Gainsborough painted them. Pulteney financed accommodation for them, speculating with profits won from stolen land and stolen lives. The enchanted city flourished on their wealth and patronage

Gainsborough George Byam
Out to the pleasure gardens to alert senses and sensibility.

Listen. Touch. Feel. Think.

Get the Jane Austen lived there, walked here, bit. Over.

out into the park

And we walked too, stopping at the claimants addresses for:
A ritual reading of the ‘charge sheet’.
The address in Bath, where we stood;

The name of the slave-owner who lived there
Date of the court order;
Number of enslaved people;
Name of the plantation, parish, Caribbean island;
Number of pounds paid out in ‘compensation’ to the slave-owner
Those released received no compensation

I heard echoes of Linton Kwesi Johnson and the New Cross Fire

“13 dead and nothing said”

I try to break the silence of this enchanted city
A run of performative statements repetitive intentional becoming disturbing:

20 million paid out and nothing said

How many lives lost, how many lives never lived. How much life blighted.

 

Sweat in the water. Blood in the sea

Reading Dabydeen aloud and suggesting Turner’s hypocrisy

Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhon coming on. 1840

The water cycle brings it all back to us now.

 

A Turner painting survives as the only record of Beckford’s monumental plantation-wealth funded Abbey

Did Beckford introduce Turner to a speculative money spinner, spun on lives and sugar?

Was he feeling guilty by 1840, decades after the Zong massacre?
In Bath no memorials only silent monuments to slave generated wealth:

Pulteney bridge

Guinea Lane

Beckfords tower.

We walk a city inscribed, the origins of its wealth obscured

 

Braikenridge collected watercolours of the rural South West,

just bought more with his compensation.

It was for others to create the plantation picturesque.

On Queens Square where Braikenridge claimed his share of the £20million there is no letter box for me to deliver his souvenir plaque. (architectural irony)

jamaican_plantation_1050x700
A conversation at a hotel on Pulteney street.

George Orwell’s grandparents claimed compensation from here.

The re-writing of history. (literary irony)
Outside the Park Street residence of Nathaniel Wells

First black JP and Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire. (no plaque)

Slaveowner. (no irony)

A conversation regarding family and loyalty.

The training of the white landed elite.

Power. Ruthlessness.

Hold a mirror to our modern European sensibilities and assumptions.

Raised as white elite, why would Wells have felt any more responsibility to his kin than to his class?

 

A conversation regarding performance…overkill? Repetitive?
Does a performative walk on such a theme need to be fun…does it need a distance?

What to do with the upset and anger.

Are we afraid of what we might unleash in ourselves?

Or had we just walked too far in the same direction?
Mad max suggests a making link to the Romans and get a laugh from lazy ‘locals’ enslaved to work at the baths.

It connects Horrible History style but denies.

I want to connect emotionally empathically. Taste the sweetness and think of human flesh digested by cowries in the ocean. Feel the rain and wonder about the memory of water. Hear the beat and dance to it.

The senses connect differently

towards the tower
At last bursting out to country

The finest view in England, so Beckford said.

Green treed river snaking through the valley

Watered with Atlantic rain.

Down there driven by water wheels

brass mills battered and thudded

Neptunes and Guinea pots

Brass manillas by the hundredweight

The currency of the slave trade

To go on the river to Bristol

For the slave ships across the sea to West Africa

To trade in human lives

Turner Beckford

On the grass at Beckford’s grave, the gilded tower behind us

Reading Dabydeen’s  Turner and looking at Turner’s slave ship painting

A conversation on scuba diving in the Caribbean connects:

Heritage in the water.

Or as Derek Walcott put it far better than I

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

We conclude with the sweetness. Sugar cake.

Kendal Mint Cake for walkers, Wordsworth and sensory memory

Mindful of the cycle of water

Even if it the molecules don’t hold

We make memory at this place, at Beckfords grave.

 

We connect, bear witness, then climb the tower.

I came back from the walk a different person

 

(quoted The Sea Is History – Poem by Derek Walcott)


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Interview and commentary on walking arts practice as research

For the second in the series of interviews exploring PhD students’ creative practice projects, John Edwards met Richard White at the Holburne Museum in Bath to learn more about his interdisciplinary approaches to history and landscape. My PhD is about walking and social media The walks are creative, performative and participatory. I’m exploring different strategies […]

via PhD Creative Practice Showcase – Richard White — BSU Research Blog


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Workhouse Walk 1

Workhouse Walk 1… a reflectionFront of workhouse

We gathered outside the imposing entrance to Bath’s former Workhouse, above us the old clock permanently stopped at twenty past six. What time was that? A time when the the arms finally rusted up and jammed. A time when the old spring ran out of energy. Wound down. Dead time. A clock that now no-one needs to wind again now that we carry precision digital time with us. The clock face dark and the gilt if it ever was, peeling from hands pulled down, pointing down as if with no further strength to even resist gravity.

The Workhouse bell rang.

A digital recording. W:house Exhib bell

The bell now permanently displayed in its wooden heritage case. The stub of clapper, an amputated tongue, deep inside. The museum crane held the bell and as it released from the wooden form it began to breath and ring and resonate. A ring from the past, a bring out your dead ring, not a school bell ring, not really an angelus ring, no peal of bells, no joy in the sound of that single struck note.  This was the ring of Workhouse time echoing down the painful years not from the chapel but down the corridors and across the yards from that central all-seeing all-hearing panopticon.

The Workhouse bell rang

And we heard it soaking into the hard flat stone walls, around the yards where women shredded rope and men broke stones. A sound once heard from the top of the hill, a warning, a structure. The day divided. The new routine signed by sound and policed with fear. Within these walls Bath’s poor were packed by the Poor Law Guardian, those forced off the land and drawn to the enchanted city where time was increasingly unified and measured in ticks, tocks and chimes rather than sun, moon, tide and pulse.

The Workhouse bell rang again

For perhaps the first time in seventy years in the corridors and hard walled yards the sound of the bell tolling. This time it was me and it cast out the sound in my head of the Summer Time Blues. The rock n rollers demise, mangled outside Chippenham he finished up on the old Workhouse then like now renamed more gently as St Martin’s Hospital. Eddie Cochrane died in Bath’s former Workhouse and like many famous and wealthy visitors to the city he got a plaque. This is where he died. The bell rings for him and all those who died in Bath’s Union Workhouse.

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We walked on, through grim workyards, along rough hewn stone walls and roaring road out to the burial ground off the Wellsway. In the centre of the field we gathered and John talked about the 3000 dead buried there, Bath’s poor who had no one to claim their bodies or the wherewithall to bury them. The field undulates, slow ripples of former lives. In the centre a slight mound, the mowers can’t decide whether to circle or skim. In the past there have been stones here, now these again moved to the side but standing there we saw more stones forcing themselves to the surface chipped by the mower blades. Something is coming to the surface, is there a DIY memorial being made, cleared and remade here?

Bearing witness

The Workhouse bell rings for the Workhouse dead

As it never did, only ever ringing to mark the hours of the working day. Eddie Cochrane gets a plaque, he died there but no memorial no plaque for more than 3000 dead in Bath’s Workhouse Burial Ground. The field is not even marked on the map.

We walk on.The boundary markers and lines of Wansdyke. Retracing old walks and cross country short cuts to the bridge over the railway line. The arrival of railway time. Work time. Factory time. Cold dead regular systematic clock in clock out industry time. A new time that had to be internalised by those who had for all generations lived with the time of the seasons, the time that connects with life. Ring out the dead indeed.

Cross country short cuts

We walked down through the trees following the Lyncombe brook, John washed his face in the gush of a cold water spa. Through Widcombe where once Workhouse schoolmaster Mr Winkworth walked his boys. We were retracing his steps, preparing for the long walk in July. Onto the canal where once perhaps there was work but now there is leisure. Spat out into the city under the great black modernist bridge.

The bell rings for the penultimate time on this short Workhouse Walk

Site of the Offices

At the site of the Poor Law Guardian’s office. Here the bearded Victorian patriarchs of the enchanted City sat in judgment over the poor, deserving and undeserving. Their offices, prone to warm water flooding, were finally demolished to reveal the Roman Baths “in all its splendour” . A city built on slavery, built by slaves, rediscovered. And in a country still basking in the wealth generated by  empire and slavery, the Victorian poor? Some fought back, resisted, but many worn out, injured, disabled, too old, too young, were hidden from view, warehoused in the Workhouse until they died. Today they remain hidden from view.

…and finally to the Museum of Bath at Work, the enchanted City of leisure appropriately has a museum of Work. Here temporarily the Workhouse Bell sits in its wooden form, silenced.

W:house Exhib openingbell and bust

The bell rings again for the last time today.

Workhouse walks continue. Do join us!

More details here: http://www.walknowtracks.co.uk/projects.html